Parsifal – Prelude to Act I
Vier letzte Lieder
Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)
Christine Brewer (soprano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes
Reviewed: 22 January, 2009
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
This performance of Richard Strauss’s exquisite “Four Last Songs” marked Christine Brewer’s first Philharmonic appearance. It was enchanting. Brewer has an enormous voice – very necessary to combat the brilliant but sometimes overwhelming orchestration – yet it is a voice that simply speaks; it’s not one of those powerful, deep, coloratura voices that hide so much. It’s bright, yet mature, and forthright without being overpowering. Armed with a voice that seems just right for these rather melancholy songs, she sailed through the enormous demands.From the bright colours of ‘Spring’, through the heartfelt, almost overwhelming ‘September’, to ‘Going to Sleep’, she had the rapt audience in the palm of her hand. And there was that perfect, restful conclusion to this quartet, ‘In the Glow of Evening’ , which simply said it all: the power of music to communicate as no other medium seems able.
Just occasionally the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – under the youthful Robin Ticciati making a welcome return to Liverpool – was slightly overpowering. But Strauss’s brilliant, though sometimes dense and somewhat opaque orchestration, places considerable demands on the players, though special mention must be made of the solo horn in the second song and the solo violin in the third. They seemed to converse with ease with the singer. Indeed, leader Thelma Handy’s contribution was a cameo in itself.
The concert opened with another intense piece: the ‘Prelude’ to Wagner’s “Parsifal”, here sombre and, if anything, slightly plodding, not quite conveying the passion that follows in the ‘sacred festival play’ that follows.
Contrast that with the joyous, almost skittish, ending of Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony – a work that is as introspective as it is celebratory. Here – particularly in the scherzo and the finale – Ticciati evidently enjoyed himself; and so did the orchestra. The sometimes-strident brass contrasted well with quiet strings and the piano-forte Ping-Pong made for an entertaining finale. Ticciati had carefully managed the brooding opening, the ‘Holyrood’ chorale brought to the fore, then the rather morose atmosphere quickly dissipated with a positive, well-paced and robust allegro bursting with life. A frothy scherzo melted away to nothing and then Ticciati emphasised all the separate lines in the magnificent counterpoint of the third, slow movement.